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Hazelbury Open Air School - Feedback 4

July 2015 - Peter Hartwell [1946/47 - 1955]

Dear Jeff,

While messing about on my computer I found your Web pages with information on the Open Air School. My name is Peter Hartwell and I moved to the Open Air School in either late 1946 or sometime in 1947, transferring from Hazelbury Infants School. I was school captain for last year to eighteen months of my time at OAS.

I left the school at the end of term, 1955, to go to Cuckoo Hall Lane School for a pre-national engineering course.

If I have the correct contact please advise and I will pass on some of my memories.

Regards        Peter

Hi, Peter.

I’m glad to hear from you and, yes, you have the right contact. I am interested in learning of any memories that you have of the Hazelbury Road Open Air School and look forward to hearing from you.

It seems that you joined the school around the same time I did although I left before you in 1953. It’s unfortunate that I have such a useless memory for names, otherwise I would surely remember you.

If you have any photos of the school, any memorabilia, or even a photo of you at the age you were when you attended the school, that would be great.


Dear Jeff,

I was born in Palmers Green, North London, and lived in Bounds Green then Enfield. I worked at MK Electric in Edmonton as a trainee design draughtsman until I moved in August 1966 to Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire.

I attended the Open Air School from late 1946 or 1947 until July 1955. It is interesting to read details from others and about the teachers who must have been hardy and caring souls to teach at such a special school.

Below is a bit of a rambling note on some of my memories that might be of interest although they might not be in correct chronological order. If I think of any others I will send them on - at 75 years of age this is probably the first time I have thought about my time at the school. Hope some of details might jog other memories by fellow attendees.

I was a pupil at Hazelbury Infant School from 1945 until I moved to the Open Air School. I was initially under treatment at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOCH) for a lung disease, which kept me away from school a lot. GOSH was based at Hemel Hempstead during and after the war. After starting at OAS I was transferred to University College Hospital in London where I had major surgery for removal of sections of my lungs.  The early period at OAS was interrupted by many hospital visits and time in hospital so some of my memories of the school are a bit vague! The OAS was very much involved and helped me in my recovery for which I will always be thankful.

The winter of 1947 was very, very cold and I recall the ink freezing in the ink wells on the desk or was that just a myth of my young mind?

We used to be taken by coach to school - for me from a pick-up point about ten minutes from home. The coaches were also used to take meals to other schools (the main kitchens being attached to the OAS) and so they always smelled of old cabbage or something.

One of my early memories is of the cloakrooms where we all had a numbered hook and a small cubical which held our hand towel, toothbrush and a small round tin of Gibbs Dentifrice which was a solid block: you had to rub the brush on it to get a small amount of paste.

We used to have breakfast, dinner and tea at school and I remember some children not liking some of the food but being made to eat it, even if that involved staying in the hall when others had left to play. After the mid-day meal we used to line up for a spoonful of cod liver oil and a spoonful of malt, sometimes with Bemax which I think was some form of oats. After lunch we would all have to have about an hour’s sleep on small steel and canvas beds in the covered open buildings, one at either end of the school. I missed my sleep when I left OAS at age 15½ and started at trade school!!

I recall our dress code was shorts and a vest for boys and basic gymslips for the girls. They were all the same and so nobody was conscious of the dress code. I think we were allowed jumpers, etc., in the winter when, unless the rain was coming in, we still had the main classroom windows open.

Some of us had Sun Ray treatment which was in the nurse’s room, sitting on a treatment table facing an ultra-violet lamp, first on the front and then on the back. The nurse had a tape measure that she used to get the correct distance from the lamp to my chest or back. We had small dark glasses to protect our eyes.

Due to my breathing problems, in the early years I attended a clinic in Pymmes Park, Edmonton, to train me to breath without my shoulders going up and down which I had always done from a very young age.

In later years we were taken by coach to the swimming baths at Edmonton Green. I attained my 25 yards breaststroke certificate before I finished which I considered a major achievement.

In 1953 we were given the opportunity to attend the Coronation parade. Places were limited so I think we drew straws and I was lucky enough to go. We were taken in one of our coaches to near Charing Cross / Hungerford Bridge where, as “handicapped children”, we had seats on the procession route while most others had to stand. After the procession passed by on its way to Westminster Abbey we were all taken back to drop-off points near our homes and I was able to see the return procession on our neighbours’ TV.

At school we used to spend a lot of time gardening, which I hate now!! And I recall making a tiered seating area in front of one of the sleeping sheds to form an open-air theatre of sorts, although I do not recall any productions taking place in it. At the rear of this section of the school there was a row of very high poplar trees which would make a lot of noise when the wind was strong while we were expected to sleep!

I recall we did a part of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” one year and I had the part of The Wall as I was the tallest. I had fabric, painted as a wall, over my stretched out arms. The only lines I can recall are “see this nook see this cranny” or something like that.

From about 12 or 13 years old I was always very keen on making and flying model aircraft and was allowed to fly my small “Jetex” powered models on the playing field; they never flew very well or very far.

Having lost a lot of time in hospital, I always struggled with my lessons, my spelling being terrible. When I left OAS I attended Cuckoo Hall Lane School in Edmonton to do a pre-national engineering course. I was quickly aware how much I was behind but managed to learn fast and finished the course with some very good results. I decided at 16½ that I would like to stay on and improve on my studies but was still considered below standard and was not accepted for technical school, etc. I got an apprenticeship as a toolmaker then went into the drawing office. During this time I used to attend night school three nights a week with homework taking up the rest of the time – very hard work. I was still at night school when I married and always advised my children to avoid that route to education.

For the year or so before leaving the OAS I was School Captain and still have my badge! I have at least one photo, which at present I have not located and the only name I remember is Geoffrey Christmas.

Regards     Peter

Hi, Peter.

Thanks for your very interesting memories. You sure had a tough life. As you say, your comments may promote additional memories from other people who attended the school.

It was interesting to hear about the buses carrying school dinners and about the OAS making school dinners for other schools; I didn’t know that.

Certainly ink did freeze in the inkwells occasionally in winter; it was no “myth of your young mind”. I remember times when the ink was frozen and we, also frozen, sat there in our overcoats and gloves with the windows wide open.

Pupils being picked to sit on the Coronation route is a neat story. I didn’t remember that, maybe because I left in 1953. You were lucky to be one of those chosen to be on the route to the Abbey.

That’s a unique part you had in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

     Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,

     Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eye!

     [Wall holds up his fingers]

I hope you find the photo you referred to. Also, perhaps you could send me a photo of your School Captain badge.


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